There is a curious problem today in the evangelical world—one that poses sobering questions for the church and for the individual believer. The problem in brief is this: a great army of personal soul-winners has been mobilized to reach the populace for Christ. They are earnest, zealous, enthusiastic, and persuasive. To their credit it must be said that they are on the job. And it is one of the phenomena of our times that they rack up an astounding number of conversions. Everything so far seems to be on the plus side.
But the problem is this. The conversions do not stick. The fruit does not remain. Six months later there is nothing to be seen for all the aggressive evangelism. The capsule technique of soul winning has produced stillbirths.
What lies at the back of all this malpractice in bringing souls to the birth? Strangely enough it begins with the valid determination to preach the pure gospel of the grace of God. We want to keep the message simple—uncluttered by any suggestion that man can ever earn or deserve eternal life. Justification is by faith alone, apart from the deeds of the law. Therefore, the message is “only believe.”
From there we reduce the message to a concise formula. For instance, the evangelistic process is cut down to a few basic questions and answers, as follows:
“Do vou believe you are a sinner?”
“Do you believe Christ died for sinners?”
“Will you receive Him as your Saviour?”
“Then you are saved!”
“Yes, the Bible says you are saved.”
At first blush the method and the message might seem above criticism. But on closer study we are forced to have second thoughts and to conclude that we have oversimplified the gosqel.
The first fatal flaw is the missing emphasis on repentance. There can be no true conversion without conviction of sin. It is one thing to agree that I am a sinner; it is quite another thing to experience the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit in my life. Unless 1 have a Spirit-wrought consciousness of my utterly lost condition, 1 can never exercise saving faith. It is useless to tell unconvicted sinners to believe on Jesus—that message is only for those who know they are lost. We sugar-coat the gospel when we de-emphasize man’s fallen condition. With that kind of a watered-down message, people receive the Word with joy instead of with deep contrition. They do not have deep roots, and though they might endure for a while, they soon give up all profession when persecution or trouble comes (Matthew 13:21). We have forgotten that the message is repentance toward God as well as faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
A second serious omission is a missing emphasis on the Lordship of Christ. A light, jovial mental assent that Jesus is Saviour misses the point. Jesus is first Lord, then Saviour. The New Testament always places His Lordship before His Saviourhood. Do we present the full implications of His Lordship to people? He always did.
A third defect in our message is our tendency to keep the terms of discipleship hidden until a decision has been made for Jesus. Our Lord never did this. The message He preached included the cross as well as the crown. “He never hid His scars to win disciples.” He revealed the worst along with the best, then told His listeners to count the cost. We popularize the message and promise fun.
The result of all this is that we have people believing without knowing what they believe. In many cases they have no doctrinal basis for their decision. They do not know the implications of commitment to Christ. They have never experienced the mysterious, miraculous work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration.
And of course we have others who are talked into a profession because of the slick salesmanship techniques of the soul-winner. Or some who want to please the affable, personable young man with the winning smile. And some who only want to set rid of this religious interloper who has intruded on their privacy. Satan laughs when these conversions are triumphantly announced on earth.
I would like to raise several questions that might lead us to some changes in our strategy of evangelism.
First of all, can we generally expect people to make an intelligent commitment to Christ the first time they hear the gospel? Certainly, there is the exceptional case where a person has already been prepared by the Holy Spirit. But generally speaking, the process involves sowing the seed, watering it, then sometime later reaping the harvest. In our mania for instant conversion, we have forgotten that conception, gestation, and birth do not occur on the same day.
A second question: can a capsule presentation of the gospel really do justice to so great a message? As one who has written several gospel tracts, I confess to a certain sense of misgiving in even attempting to condense the good news into four small pages. Would we not be wiser to give people the full presentation as it is found in the Gospels, or in the New Testament?
Thirdly, is all this pressure for decisions really scriptural? Where in the New Testament were people ever pressured into making a profession? We justify our practice by saying that if only one out of ten is genuine, it is worth it. But what about the other nine—disillusioned, bitter, perhaps deceived en route to hell by a false profession.
And I must ask this: is all this boasting about conversions really accurate? You’ve met the man who solemnly tells you of ten people he contacted that day and all of them were saved. A young doctor testified that every time he goes to a new city, he looks in the phone book for people with his last name. Then he calls them one by one and leads them through the four steps to salvation. Amazingly enough, every one of them opens the door of his heart to Jesus. I don’t want to doubt the honesty of people like this, but am I wrong in thinking that they are extremely naive? Where are all those people who are saved? They cannot be found.
What it all means is that we should seriously re-examine our streamlined, capsule evangelism. We should be willing to spend time teaching the gospel, laying a solid doctrinal foundation for faith to rest on. We should stress the necessity for repentance—a complete about-face with regard to sin. We should stress the full implications of the Lordship of Christ and the conditions of discipleship. We should explain what belief really involves. We should be willing to wait for the Holy Spirit to produce genuine conviction of sin. Then we should be ready to lead the person to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
If we do this, we’ll have less astronomical figures of so-called conversions, but more genuine cases of spiritual rebirth.
There is scarcely any New Testament book, of which the authorship and inspiration have been more frequently assailed by critics and would-be critics, than the second epistle of Peter; and yet there is scarcely any that will more readily satisfy spiritual men, as to its genuineness in both respects. They cannot read it without feeling that it is Peter and none other who is addressing them; nor can they read it without feeling that it is God Himself who is speaking to them through His servant.
Attention has at times been drawn to how greatly it differs from 1st Peter; but similar differences exist between 1st and 2nd Corinthians, 1st and 2nd Thessalonians, and 1st and 2nd Timothy, these being due in each case to development and in some degree change of subject. It has also been suggested that its second chapter is too much an imitation of Jude’s epistle to be the work of a greater than he; but we have already pointed out that this close similarity in certain passages to other writers, is even more prominently a feature of Peter’s first epistle.
1st Peter had been written to “the elect, sojourners of the Dispersion,” in some provinces of Asia Minor, a designation which, as was remarked, would hint that the writer had more especially in view the Jewish saints in those places. 2nd Peter is addressed more widely, “to them that have obtained like precious faith with us.” No territorial limits are mentioned; and the form of expression employed might suggest Gentile converts, the “us” referring to the Jewish ones. But it is evident from the words he uses in chapter 3:1 that the apostle has the same readers before his mind in both letters; and this is confirmed by the same mention in the following verse of “Your apostles” (See R.V.); a hint that here, as in the first epistle, he is writing to those who had been brought to Christ through the agency of Paul and his companions. It is therefore more probable that the expression in chapter 1:1 refers, not to Gentile converts as compared with Jewish, but to the general body of the saints who had obtained like precious faith with the original apostles and “eye-witnesses” (ch. 1:16), of whom Peter himself was one.
When comparing the two epistles together, one is struck by the fact that, while 1st Peter is full of references to suffering for Christ’s sake, the words “suffer” and “suffering” do not occur even once in 2nd Peter. This is not because the “fiery trial” of 1st Peter 1:6, 7; 4:12 had come to an end; for indeed the apostle himself was about to fall a victim to it, as he hints in 2nd Peter 1:14. But he had already said all that was necessary upon that subject; and he has now another message to give the saints before he is taken from them. It is a message of warning as to dangers ahead of a very different kind from the persecution they were now suffering; dangers arising from the false teachers of chapter 2, and from the scoffers of chapter 3, dangers that, if not withstood, will influence for evil their conduct, and put an end to their progress as saints.
TWO APOSTLES IN ACCORD
This line of things is similar to that taken up by Paul in his last written epistle, the second to Timothy; and because it is, 2nd Timothy and 2nd Peter much resemble each other; as may be seen by comparing the references in each to the “last days”; to the evil teachers that the last days will bring forth; to the Word of Goa as a safeguard in the last days and to the conduct which should characterize God's people in the last days. Thus it might be said that, as in his first epistle Peter shows that his general teaching is in full accord with that of Paul, so in his second he lets us see that the latest thoughts of these two great leaders, as to what they should emphasise to the saints just before being removed from them by martyrdom were also in full accord.
When pointing out in a former paper the large number of words and phrases that by their repetition are characteristic of 1st Peter, it was shown that some of them stand out prominently in 2nd Peter also. One such is Conversation” ( behaviour) found in ch. 2:7 (“filthy conversation,”) and in ch. 3:11 (“holy conversation”), while its Greek verbal form occurs in ch. 2:18 (“live”). Another is “Grace,” the last occurrence of which in the exhortation “Grow in grace” of ch. 3:18, puts a fitting topstone on the many references previously made to it by the apostle. And there are various others.
SECOND PETER’S SPECIAL WORDS
But 2nd Peter has noteworthy repetitions of its own; one interesting example being its exhortations to diligence. In ch. 1:10 the saints are urged to make sure that they have started right, in the words, “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” In ch. 3:14 they are exhorted, on the ground of their future prospects, to “Give diligence (R.V.) that they may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless.” And in ch. 1:5 they are encouraged to fill up the intervening time of testimony by growth in Christian graces; “Giving all diligence” they are to add to their faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and so on. The same word is also used by Peter in ch. 1:15 of his own exercise as to providing permanent help for the saints. It is hidden in the A.V. by a different rendering, but is brought out clearly in the R.V., “I will give diligence that at every time ye may be able after my decease to call these things to remembrance.”
Perhaps of even more interest are the occurrences of the word “godliness,” a term that 2nd Peter shares with the Timothy epistles, and which is found nowhere else save in Peter’s own gospel address at Acts 3:12. This too is hidden by the A.V. in its rendering “holiness,” but is shewn in the R.V.
In our epistle it has, like the above-mentioned exhortations to diligence, links with the past, present, and future of Christian experience. In ch. 1:3 we read that God in saving us has made provision for it, by granting unto us “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” In ch. 1:7 we are called upon to add it to other graces in which we should be making constant progress. And in ch. 3:11 we are to be found manifesting it by the Lord when He comes. This last occurrence is the only place in the N.T. where the word is in the plural (Greek); the suggestion being that it is to be manifested in all possible ways and in fullest measure.
Second, there was the personal disclosure in a series of undisguised statements.
‘I am the bread of life’ (35). That was in answer to the request, ‘Lord, evermore gives us this bread.’ They had again failed to understand that the impartation and sustenance of spiritual life was more important than eating material bread for maintaining physical life.
‘He that comes to me shall never hunger; and he that believes in me shall never thirst.’ The claim was a personal one which could not be mistaken. Again the minds of the hearers must have been taken back to the wilderness experience of their forefathers, both to the supply of bread in the form of the manna, and to the supply of water from the rock.
The statement gives explicit meaning to ‘eating’ and ‘drinking.’ The words are explained by ‘cometh’ and ‘believeth,’ appreciating who Jesus is, and appropriating Him as the living Bread. He is the giver of spiritual life. It was the repeated assertion that like the manna He was a gift from the Father and had come down from heaven that provided the cause for murmuring among His audience, and they vigorously protested that they knew His human origin, being ignorant of the great mystery of His birth. They said, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it, then, that he saith, I came down from heaven?’ (v. 42).
The Jews of that day were progenitors of the materialistically minded religious people of every generation. They really discount the genuinely spiritual aspects of life, think of Jesus in terms of His humanity only, and consequently cannot taste of Him as the true Bread which came down from heaven. They may ‘hunger’ and ‘thirst,’ but those desires are never satisfied because they do not humble themselves to ‘come’ and do not ‘believe’ that in the risen Christ there is everything to satisfy every spiritual aspiration. They do not have the gift of everlasting life. They still ask the question, ‘How is it that He saith, I came down from heaven?’ Doubtful of His Deity, they cannot understand how belief in Him as Son of Man now exalted can bring to them the gift of God.
Our Lord became more explicit and more difficult to understand.
He said plainly, ‘I am the bread of life’ (48). ‘1 am the living bread which came down from heaven’ (51). The manna was a lifeless material substance. It merely sustained temporarily those who ate it. The generation which partook of it died. The living Bread could impart spiritual life and sustain it. Those who ‘ate’ that Bread would live for ever and not die (50-51). That was a startling statement.
Even more baffling was the next pronouncement. ‘The bread that I will give is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world’ (v. 51). Dulled by a materialistic approach to the subject under discussion, the Jews could not understand the underlying meaning as referring to the death by which spiritual life through forgiveness would be brought to the world. That is why they asked the question the answer to which was even still more bewildering. The question was, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ and the answer was in the strangest of words. ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood dwells in me, and I in him. As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father, so he who eats me, even he shall live by me’ (vv. 53-57).
Ellicott’s Commentary throws light on the passage. ‘It was now the time of their Paschal Feast (verse 4), when Jewish families were assembling to eat the flesh which told of deliverance from Egyptian bondage and the birth of the nation’s life. Every day of Temple service told of flesh given in sacrifice for sin, and eaten in the maintenance of the individual life. His words, uttered at this Passover and fulfilled at the next, announce a gift of His own flesh as the true Paschal Lamb, as the sacrifice for the sins of the world, and as the sustenance of the true life of mankind.’
A simple analysis of our Lord’s statement should provoke thoughtful consideration of its content and intent.
Eating His flesh and drinking His blood means the acknowledgment of His divine-human personality, and the personal appropriation of His death as a sacrifice for sin.
Unwillingness to make that acknowledgment and enjoy the result of that appropriation means that a person has no spiritual life in him.
Those who acknowledge and appropriate have ‘eternal life.’
For such there is an intimacy of union, for Christ says of such, ‘he dwells in me, and I in him.’
If a person abides in Christ, he will live by Him, that is there has been imparted to him the principle of a new life which is nurtured by fellowship with Him whose flesh is food indeed and whose blood is drink indeed.
The possession of that new life is the guarantee of resurrection, for said the Lord, ‘1 will raise him up at the last day.’
Blessed, indeed, are all those who by faith with thanksgiving ‘eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of man!’ At the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 16:11, 23-26) there is the constant reminder as we break the bread and drink the cup that the source of eternal life is in the sacrifice of the Son of God, and that spiritual life is sustained by personal appropriation of the provision made in fellowship with the exalted Lord. It is the recognition of that aspect of the Lord’s Supper which acts as a deterrent against its becoming a mere formality devoid of meaning.
A parallel drawn from the Book of Nehemiah and the First Epistle to the Corinthians.
BUT some in Nehemiah’s day were not able to bear the reproach and opposition that was connected with their position as part of a despised company. “And Judah said, the strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall” (Neh. 4, v. 10). The apostle Paul reminds servants that they are responsible to the Head of the church to manage and deliver the truths of God (1 Cor. 4, vv. 1, 2). Brethren, make your judgment when the Lord comes! (v. 5). Clearly that will then be superfluous. “Then shall every man (as true Judahs) have praise of God.” Not the premature praise sounded in the ears of favourite teachers. The Corinthians were giving the impression that the time of reproach and suffering was over, they were reigning as kings (v. 8). Adds the apostle “without us” (and without the Lord). “Even to this present hour we both hunger and thirst and -.” I didn’t know that the day of triumph had begun! Is it not so, brethren, that there is reluctance on the part of some to accept assembly position of identification with a rejected Lord, outside the camp, because of the reproach and conflict that such a position brings?
Nehemiah took steps to see that the work continued and encouraged his brethren to untiring service by personal example and by those that followed him. “So neither I, nor my brethren, nor my servant, nor the men of the guard which permitting those “without” to judge those “within.” The least among the saints should be able to judge comparatively trivial matters (Heading, Lias, Grant) (v. 4). Paul is astonished “do you seek judgment from outsiders?” Such being implied in the words “of no account in the church” (R.V. Meyer, Vine). Sarcasm—“if you have men that are made of no account in the church set these on the bench; shame if you regard some thus.” Gravely—“Is it so there is no wise man... such a lack of men of sense among you with all your talent and pretensions” (Findlay). The apostle concludes with a warning against impurity (1 Cor. 6, vv. 9-20). The marriage union is of God (v. 16). This leads to a consideration of the subject of marriage and celibacy in chapter 7.
Having established again internal harmony, Nehemiah reports his continuance in the work of building the wall (Neh. 5, v. 16) only to meet with fresh opposition in the form of a request, “come, let us meet together in some one of the villages in the plain of Ono” (Neh. 6, v. 2) (the valley of craftsmen, Neh. 11, v. 35). Nehemiah’s answer is firm, “and I sent messengers unto them, saying, I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down: why should the work cease, whilst I leave it, and come down to you? Yet they sent unto me four times after this sort: and I answered them after the same manner” (Neh. 6, vv. 3, 4). May we, brethren, appreciate that the service of God is of prime importance and that attending upon the things of God is a great work.
The apostle begins his answers to the Corinthian questions by considering, firstly, the forming of the marriage bond (1 Cor. 7, vv. 1-9). Celibacy is the higher ideal but marriage will be the rule not the exception. He continues with question relative to the loosing of the marriage bond (vv. 10-24). For the believing couple the Lord has forbidden divorce (vv. 10, 11). Paul directs v. 12 as to the new situation arising from the preaching of the gospel. Where the unbelieving spouse refuses to remain with the believer and divorce proceedings follow, the believer is quietly to accept this. “A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases” (v. 15). That is, he is not to mourn unduly the separation, thinking that conversion is more difficult now, for he cannot say with certain knowledge that salvation would have resulted had she remained (v. 16). But what of the believer divorced before conversion? The Lord took account of the situation when calling such in the gospel (v. 17). But let him not seek another marriage (v. 24). Paul concludes by presenting to virgins and widows the advantages of being free from the marriage bond (vv. 25-40). Some are not happy about the A.V. rendering of v. 36 and prefer “his own virginity” (Darby, Grant). But it is the father giving his daughter in marriage who is in view. “He might, no doubt, have done better for his child’s happiness; but he has not made himself liable to any reproach” (Godet). The father decides for his daughter. The widow for herself “to whom she will; only in the Lord” (v. 39). This liberty of judgment the apostle extends to the question of food offered to idols in chapter 8. There was real spiritual danger in participating in a feast in the temple of idols. The weak brother must be preserved (vv. 9-13). But what of the strong brother’s own conduct in sitting at a banquet in such a place? Paul does not divert from his subject. He will deal with this in chapter 10.
BEFORE we approach this section which deals with a change of course and a new name, circumcision and the promise, it is necessary for us to see the necessity for the believer to learn the lessons here enshrined which are so often overlooked. The enjoyment of the position and state of justification by faith precedes and introduces us to the walk of holiness. There should of course be no long interval between the two although often alas, there is, but the first is immediate and cannot be repeated whereas the latter is to be the entrance to a life long “walk.” It is just here that believers often go astray, although the two are clearly defined in the teaching of the New Testament.
If we are going to be spiritually fruitful and also intercessors then it is absolutely essential that these preliminary experiences be true of us.
We now come to the second appearance to Abram of which there are three, the first in Chapter 12, v. 7, containing the first promise of the land where he builds the first altar, here in chapter 17, for the call to holiness, and lastly in 18:1. But this is another call “I am the Almighty God, walk before Me and be thou perfect” for Abram’s walk recently had been far from that, the flesh had sadly marred it. Here is another fresh discovery of the Name of Jehovah, “El Shaddai”. Some have interpreted this as “All sufficient” rather than “Almighty” but this description is open to doubt. God was speaking of His almighty power to bring about what He had promised and not His all-sustaining grace. He is about to change Abram’s and also Sarai’s names and characters and to reiterate His wonderful promises and while He speaks of the many nations to come out from Abraham, yet it is the “Seed” which is now prominent not yet in the singular “thy seed which is Christ” (Gen. 22:17.) but the nations and kings which should emanate from Abraham, and also the land, all the land of Canaan. This is a specific and unconditional covenant and promise, but it has to do with earth (Canaan) and nations and the land.
Abraham, however, is to observe this covenant in a special way and it is as if God is saying to him, “You can stop trying to bring about My promises by the works of the flesh” you must “walk before Me, and be perfect” for his walk and ways had been anything but that, but now he is called to a path of holiness, thus the change of name and character, and so circumcision is prescribed. This is all, as Paul points out in his epistles, before the law, and the original promise and covenant is before circumcision, this is the argument in all his epistles, especially those dealing with Gentile believers, see Rom. 4:9-17, which deals not only with the law of Moses, but the prior circumcision. But here the flesh has to be dealt with, and the sign must be given and applied to all in his house and throughout the generations. It is not only the Cross-work of Christ which has fulfilled all this and rendered it now ineffective and unnecessary. Indeed to apply circumcision today would be to cut oneself off from Christ, and He would profit us nothing. See Galatians 5:2:3, also Rom. 2:25, 29, and 4:9-12. So great and complete is the work of Christ upon the cross.
It must also be noted that any person who broke this covenant of curcumcision did not thereby set aside the covenant of grace made to Abraham (in ch. 15) but only suffered by being “cut off” from God’s people.
The promise of God concerning Sarah now follows, vv15-19 and Abraham laughs because of the impossibility of it even as Sarah laughs later at its repetition (18:12-15). Some have said that this laughter of Abraham was in faith while that of Sarah was in unbelief, but the record admits of no such thing. There is that which he said in his heart and what he said to the Lord, and the latter “Oh, that Ishmael might live before thee” i.e. as his heir, proves the matter. But God repeats it and pre-names Isaac which means “laughter” and repeats that the covenant will be with him and his seed after him.
God also gives a promise to Ishmael, which He had previously given to Hagar before his birth and speaks of his seed, but the covenant, even though Ishmael is circumcised, is with Isaac, which shews that one must not confuse the two things.
The Lampstand consisted of a central shaft with three branches coming out of each side. It was made from one niece of pure gold of beaten work, exquisitely engraved with knops (buds) and flowers with cups of almond at the extremities to take the oil for the light. It was the costliest and most beautiful of all the holy vessels.
The purpose of the lampstand was to give light in the holy place. Natural light could not penetrate so the lamp-stand was alight continually ch. 27, 20. It illuminated the other vessels, the table of shewbread and the golden altar, as well as the walls and tabernacle roof, and in its light the priests accomplished their service. The light is an apt emblem of the Holy Spirit of truth, and the oil used so often in the anointing of priests and kings, also prefigures the Holy Spirit 1 John 2,?0. The number 7 connected with the candlestick here, would remind us of the seven spirits of God, and the seven lamps of fire spoken of in Revelation 3, 1 and Ch. 4:5—the Spirit of God in the fulness of His power. The teaching is plain therefore. To apprehend and appreciate spiritual things we must be enlightened by the Spirit. Natural reason cannot receive the things of God, its feeble light fails to understand.
The lights were also cast upon the candlestick itself revealing its beauty. The candlestick is of course, Christ. The fulness of the Spirit dwelt in Him; the buds and flowers suggest His fruitfulness and fragrance to God; the gold of beaten work expresses His divine nature which experienced all the sufferings of His humanity. He was the light of the World. The purpose of the Spirit now is illuminate all the glories of the Lord Jesus and magnify Him.
Believers are responsible to reflect the light Phil 2, 14-15, as individuals and collectively as assemblies cf. the golden lampstands of Rev. 1. As the priest maintained the light in a the holy place, so Christ now as our heavenly Priest maintains the witness of believers and assemblies by His care and intercession. The holy place in communion with God, is where we see by the Spirit, the light of divine truth. In thy light, %t shall we see light, Ps. 36, 9; cf. Ps. 73, 17.
v. The Local Assembly is Spirit-equipped as to its functions.
(1 Corinthians 12). This important chapter shows the four outstanding features of a Spirit-controlled Assembly:
The Lordship of Christ is assured. There is obviously a complete reversal of a former state of affairs. In the dark days of superstition these Corinthians had been “CARRIED AWAY to dumb idols, even as they had been led.” Evil spirits who had dominated and directed them had been evicted and annulled by the incoming of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, no one held and swayed by the new Occupant of their hearts, (as those demons had done), would ever oppose or anathematize (that is, curse) the Lord Jesus. Indeed, this inliving Holy Spirit creates desires to own and honour Him and secure His rightful place in confession and conduct. In His domain and dominion, “Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Thus in “the SPIRITUALS” (v. 1. lit) the Lord Jesus is the recognised supreme authority which is precisely what Lordship means; His absolute right to administer and control His Own Assembly.
The Gifts of the Risen Lord will be in evidence. (1 Cor. 12:4, 5, 6.) They are set out for us in a three-fold way, first as to their origin; the Holy Spirit, second as to their ordering; the Lord Jesus, and third as to their operation: by the work of God which brings us to the high-water mark of spiritual co-operation, the lovely harmony possible through the blessed Trinity.
ORIGIN, v. 4 “Varieties of gifts but the same Spirit.” Who is the Author of a spiritual capacity for any given work? The answer is simply, the Holy Spirit, For instance, He begets Shepherd affection and ability such as were seen in Peter. (John 21:15-17). The exhorter, like Barnabas, is also a man imbued with the Spirit. Godly leadership can be developed where least expected when the Spirit has His way. Always it is “the same Spirit” who produces the gifts.
ORDERING, v. 5 “Varieties of ministeries (or services) but the same LORD.” The gifts being present, where and when shall they be employed? It is the blessed Lord who places them and indicates their services. A glad and ready obedience on the part of the gifted one will imply His authority and explain the humility and dependence with which His “services” are rendered.
OPERATION. “Varieties of workings but the same God who worketh all things in all.” (V. 6. R.V.) The effectiveness of the gifts is finally stated. The three Persons harmoniously involved in the production, the mastery and the impact of these gifts is surely an inspiring thought. Believers with spiritual powers being controlled by the Lord Jesus and their God-given success present a standard for any Assembly at anytime. As this ideal unfolds it allows of no loop-hole of escape, there is a function, private or public, for every member of the local church.
The “Hall-mark” of the Spirit will be seen. (1 Cor. 12:7-12). With every manifestation of the Spirit comes an indubitable proof of its reality. “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each for profit.” (v. 7) Nine such clear operations are here specified, and set out, one would believe in their order of “profit” to the church; the best gifts (12:31) “Wisdom” is really applied “knowledge” and “faith” no doubt is that which is attributed to men like Stephen (Acts 6:3-5) who possibly had other aptitudes as well. Their valuable contributions are clearly stated. The healer and miracle worker had a spiritual as well as a physical side to their services. The New Testament prophet is well represented in Agabus. He was more than a preacher being given his message for the Saints by direct revelation (Acts 11:28, 20; 10:1 Cor. 14:31). Both Peter and Paul illustrate for us “the discerning of spirits” which was by no means confined to Apostles. (Acts 8:23, 13:9, 1 John 4:1). In centres like Corinth the gifts of tongues and their interpretation were not only used but because of their somewhat spectacular nature were being exploited while those of greater profit were being somewhat discounted as a consequence. To all at Corinth the Apostle is making clear the relative importance of every manifestation of the Spirit.
Any careful student of these facts will connect the abnormal gifts of healings, miracles, tongues and interpretations with the period and purpose of “the Apostles and Prophets” and interpret their presence in the light of the great supernatural change-over, the need for its establishment internally and eternally, and particularly the need for the rounding-off of New Testament teaching. Just as the Apostles and Prophets are no longer with us (Ephes. 2:20) so also the Sign-gifts were faded out when their purpose had been fulfilled, and "their day of usefulness had been ended. The whole of the teaching of “the Apostles and Prophets” is long since embodied in our perfected New Testament: a revelation so complete as to require nothing but gifted men to unfold and interpret it as enlightened by its Author.
The same principle, however, remains that every true manifestation of the Spirit has His “Hall-mark” upon it. It is given for the PROFIT of the household of faith. We profit God’s people only when we EDIFY them, that is build them up, when we EXHORT them, that is, stir them up, or when we COMFORT them or lift them up. (1 Cor. 14:3, 29 in principle.)
‘A REVELATION’ is the literal rendering of the title of this book; it was a revelation that God commissioned His Son, Jesus Christ, to pass on to others; it was also a revelation of the Lord as a judge. The Revelation is divided into three parts (v. 19), (1) What John saw, that is, the vision of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ as Judge in chap. 1, (2) ‘The things which are’, that is, the Lord’s judgment concerning seven churches on earth, (3) ‘The things which shall come to pass hereafter’, lit., after these things. It consists in the Lord’s future judgment of men on earth, after the churches’ earthly judgment is completed, and the Church has been removed thence.
The apostle John finds himself on Patmos, as to bodily presence; he is in spirit, as to faculty consciousness. His spirit, that part of his being that reaches after the things of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:16, 1 Cor. 2:14), was being exercised to the exclusion of his other faculties—his body and his soul. This meaning of the words ‘in the spirit’, lit., in spirit (the absence of the article indicating the character of the experience), is in keeping with the three other occurrences of these two words in the book (Rev. 4:2, 17:3, 21:10). Such a state was necessary for the full estimation of the great visions he was about to receive. For the believer to-day such a detachment from worldly ambitions and occupations makes for clearer vision to appreciate divine glories. May God enable us to be truly sensitive of this vision John had of the Lord.
John first mentions hearing a great trumpet-like voice, a voice of emphatic clarity, giving him instructions to transmit a record of what he was about to see and hear—all the visions of the book (1:4), further subdivided in 1:19. In response to this command he turned to see the voice, a figure of speech called metonymy, whereby an attribute is substituted for the person meant, that is, he turned to see from whom the voice came.
Having turned, his attention was drawn to seven golden lampstands (R.V.m.). But his vision became fixed on a figure in the midst of the lampstands, on One like unto a son of man (R.V.). The words ‘son of man’ are here without the definite article, indicating that John is referring not so much to a specific person, but rather to One whose character was that of a son of man. The One in the midst of the lamp-stands was a man. Henceforth the glories of this Man absorb all John’s attention, as he proceeds to describe Him minutely.
John first noticed His clothing (v. 13). He was robed in a garment that descended to His feet, highly reminiscent of the robe of the High Priest of Israel. The same word for robe is used in the Septuagint of Ex. 28:31. But this was not a High Priest’s robe. There was no mitre, no breastplate, no ephod. True, the High Priest had a girdle round his robe, but round his waist, whilst here the girdle is round the breasts. This was a golden girdle, unlike the girdle of fine twined linen wherewith the High Priest held his garments tightly around him. Thus the robe and girdle here were not those of a High Priest, but of a judge. The robe is indicative of dignity and power. The girdle was not intended to hold up the robe for priestly service to be carried out, as the robe was seen going down to the feet. It was rather the girdle of judicial authority, as used by the magistrates of those days. That it was of gold suggest divine authority to execute judgment. A similar picture is seen in Rev. 15:5-8. There seven angels, ‘their breasts girded with golden girdles’, have the responsibility of administering the judgment of the wrath of God.
Having shown how the Man in the midst of the lampstands was arrayed John goes on to describe the seven-fold glory of His person, His characteristic attributes. He starts at the head. ‘His head and His hairs were white like wool, as white as snow’, a description highly reminiscent of that of ‘the Ancient of days’ of Daniel’s vision (Dan. 7:9). What John chiefly noticed here was the whiteness, like white wool, like snow—two symbols setting forth purity and holiness (Isa. 1:18, Ps. 51:7), the attributes of an unbiased and incorruptible Judge.
John next noted the eyes. They were like a flame of fire. A clue to the meaning of this expression is found in chap. 2. The One ‘who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire’ (v.18), is the One who ‘searcheth the reins and hearts’ (v. 23). It indicates the keen and penetrating gaze of the Judge whose eye misses nothing, and before whom ‘all things are naked and opened’ (Heb. 4:13). His award will be in accordance with what His eyes see. The Person walking in the midst of the churches sees all things, great and small. Nothing escapes His scrutiny. His eyes encompass the full scope of any failure in a church. They also perceive the motive in the heart of the individual, and know just how much the slightest thought or insinuation of the least of the saints has contributed to the larger issue for good or bad in the church.
The feet are then described. They were ‘like unto burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace’ (R.V.). In all Greek literature the only occurrences of this word translated ‘burnished brass’ are here and in Rev. 2:18. Its meaning is obscure, but is hinted at in John’s explanation—‘as it had been refined in a furnace’. It is thus a metal, a bright metal that had been burnished in a refining fiery furnace.
The voice of the Man of John’s vision he likens to the sound of many waters—the noise produced by a mighty rushing torrent—immense, powerful, awe-inspiring, unmistakable, excluding all other voices. Well might His messages inspire fear in men. It was the voice of divine power and majesty (Ps. 29:4). Such a voice Israel could not endure, and intreated that it be not repeated (Heb. 12:19-20).
John then saw in the right hand of this majestic Person seven stars. The right hand suggests the place of control and support. We are not left to our own imagination as to the symbolism of the seven stars. They are explained (v. 20) as representing the angels of the seven churches to whom John must convey the messages of judgment.
The two-edged sword that proceeded out of the mouth of this Man symbolises His judicial power and authority to deal with His enemies. It is used (a) for the protection of the church against the inroads of those who would subvert it (2:16), (b) for the destruction of His enemies. The two-edged nature of the sword emphasises its sharpness (Prov. 5:4, Heb. 4:12). It will penetrate deeply into the inmost secrets of men to judge them. Three times in this vision John mentions that which proceeds from His mouth, (a) the clarity of the trumpet-like voice (v. 10), (b) the voice of majestic power (v. 15), (c) the sword-like destruction that His words accomplish. Is this to impress upon men the importance of heeding the messages given?
IT may be argued that if we do not use a Bible translation in modern speech and if our public prayers are not in modern speech, we shall give the impression to the unconverted that we are dealing with that which is unreal or outdated. In addressing persons the word “thou” was used in everyday speech to denote the singular and “ye” to denote the plural. Many years ago this practice ceased and “you” was adopted whether one person or more was being addressed. Some would contend that there is no reason for employing “old-fashioned language” in a Bible translation or in addressing God and that the use today of the word “you” would be consistent with the use in a former day of the word “thou.”
The Authorised Version and certain other translations have preserved by the use of “thou” and “ye” the distinction made in the original languages between singular and plural. It is true, of course, that the pronoun used in addressing God was the same as that used in addressing any one person. A modern translation abandoning the use of “thou” may rob us of significant differences between singular and plural forms. For example, the Lord Jesus said, “Have I been so long time with you (the disciples), and yet has thou (Philip) not known Me?” (John 14:9). Again the Lord said, “Satan hath desired to have you (the disciples)... but I have prayed for thee (Simon)” (Luke 22:31, 32). For private study other good translations also have their value, but for public reading at gospel meetings we cannot do better than use the Authorised Version. An explanatory comment may be made where necessary. For example, in reading I Thessalonians 4:15 we would perhaps explain that “prevent” means “precede.” In the course of the years a few words in the Authorised Version have changed their meaning, so far as popular usage is concerned, and a few words have dropped out of everyday speech. These facts do not justify us in regarding the general language of the Authorised Version as old-fashioned or archaic.
Let us take advantage of the fact that in the word “thou” we have in English an intelligible word that by very reason of its uncommon usage has peculiar dignity. Take for example the words of I Chronicles 29, vv. 10 and 11, “Blessed be Thou, LORD God of Israel our father, for ever and ever. Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is Thine; Thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and Thou art exalted as Head above all.” What dignified, reverent and awe-inspiring language is this! Read the same passage but substitute for “Thou” and “Thine” “You” and “Yours” and the passage is belittled. Something of grandeur, dignity and reverence is lost.
Those who have been born again are God’s children and have the right to address Him as Father, but they should do so with reverence and humility. Language appropriate between equals or between fellow-humans is not appropriate in our addressing God. Let us, by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, select the most reverent words available to us.